We're getting to that time of year when the weather's just starting to break a little bit. After months of stifling hot weather, I can almost feel fall in the air. I like that.
Don't get me wrong. I love summertime fishing, too, but fall is special, and I'll be glad when it's here. Cooler weather, less boat traffic and the beautiful fall colors are all things that I look forward to at this time of the year.
I also enjoy the changing patterns that come into play whenever there's a transition between seasons. All summer long I've been focused on night fishing and working deep structure. And although I've broken that up with some other styles of fishing, I'm ready for a change.
Two of my favorite fall smallmouth patterns involve shallow water, and at least one of them will work for you this year, depending on the kind of smallmouth habitat you fish.
I'm lucky to live near Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee. Not only has the Hollow produced five of the seven brown bass weighing better than 10 pounds that have ever been caught, but the world record was caught here some 53 years ago. We have the biggest smallies in the world and some of the very best brown bass habitat — lots of rock, grass and great water quality. It's what makes this lake such a great training ground for smallmouth anglers.
The first pattern I want to discuss really has just two major components: grass and a topwater stickbait. When most bass anglers think of grass, they think of largemouths, but smallmouths love grass, too.
At Dale Hollow, we have grass growing down to 20 feet and more — the water's so clear. But no matter how deep the grass grows, I've learned that you can catch them on topwaters until the grass starts to turn brown. My favorite bait is the Zara Spook. I'll make a long cast across an area where I know there's grass and walk the Spook all the way back to the boat. A lot of times it'll get interrupted by a big smallmouth rocketing out of the grass to smash it on top.
These strikes can be really unnerving. Watching a bronze blur come out of the depths to slam your lure is very exciting, and it can cause you to miss a lot of strikes if you're not careful. Avoid the temptation to set the hook as soon as you see the splash. Wait — if you can — until you actually feel the bass moving with the bait, then set the hook. If you don't feel the bass very soon, he missed it and you can continue your retrieve. If he got it, he'll be headed back for the grass right away, so get his head up and moving your way.
My next fall pattern is one you can use even if you don't have grass where you fish, but you will probably need to be on a man-made reservoir. In the fall, baitfish migrate to the backs of creeks and other tributaries. You should, too, because that's where the smallmouths are going to be.
The bigger the creek, the more baitfish and smallmouths are likely to be there, but I really like targeting the smaller creeks during the fall for a couple of reasons.
First of all, a lot of other anglers will overlook the smaller tributaries thinking there won't be much activity back there. They're wrong. It's true that there won't be as much activity as on the bigger creeks, but that doesn't mean there won't be plenty of bass back there.
The best creeks tend to be the ones that are the most isolated — whether they're big or small. Find one that's off the beaten path, far from any launch ramp, and you're in business. Find one that's a good distance from any other creek, and you may really hit it big.
Another thing I like about small creeks is that you don't have to spend the whole day fishing them to find out if they're holding a good concentration of bass. If the creek's small, you and your fishing partner may both need to move up onto the front casting deck as it narrows down. And if it's shallow, you can put away your deepest baits and try to get action on shallow running crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters.
If a lure looks like a baitfish, it's a potential killer in the fall of the year when fishing the backs of creeks. And if it doesn't look like a baitfish, you might want to throw something else!
Until next time, if you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. Please e-mail me atStephen@thesmallmouthguru.com.